How to prevent injury before your first triathlon

To ensure you're on top form for your first triathlon of the year, professor Greg Whyte introduces the concept of 'prehabilitation' to help stave off season-derailing injury and enhance recovery

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As we emerge from a winter of predominantly long-duration, lower-intensity training into the shorter-duration, higher-intensity training of pre-season, we’re presented with the perennial problem of early-season soreness and injury.


This can, if not avoided, destroy all those hours of hard slog throughout the winter months.

In addition to the change in training intensity, training environments also change – open-water swimming, track running, and high-intensity turbo sessions, for example.

These changes place increased and novel stressors on the body, which can lead to exaggerated muscle damage, soreness, ‘niggles’* and injury.

What are the most common pre-triathlon-season injuries?

For example, the longer, continuous efforts of open-water swimming combined with the restrictions created by the wetsuit, places unaccustomed stress on the shoulders, which can lead to shoulder pain (the classic ‘swimmer’s shoulder’).

In addition, it’s not uncommon to experience early-season low back pain, associated with prolonged periods of extension in cold water, and calf cramping associated with prolonged periods of plantar flexion (pointing toes) in open water compared to the pool.

When it comes to running, the change of pace and surface often leads to the omnipresent calf injury, particularly for age-group athletes! These niggles/injuries can be difficult to treat and often persist throughout the season, resulting in broken training and damaging performance.

Most athletes understand that progressively introducing these training changes can reduce the potential for injury However, there’s an important training intervention that can limit injury while improving the speed of transition: prehabilitation.

What is prehabilitation?

I use prehabilitation in a clinical setting to prepare patients for major physiological insults i.e., chemotherapy and surgery. Preparing for an increase in physiological stress is a concept that’s also important in athletic performance.

Strength training is often viewed through a performance-enhancement lens, whereas strength training as an injury-prevention strategy is just as important.

Why you should do strength training throughout the year

Instead of dropping strength training from the programme as pre-season arrives, it’s important to maintain it throughout pre-season and beyond, but with a change in focus to performance maintenance and injury prevention.

For example, including targeted calf strength/power, core strength and stability, and external rotator cuff exercises into the programme can reduce the risk of the omnipresent calf/back/shoulder injury and speed the transition from winter into pre-season.

Careful planning of training is central to success, but it’s often the enhancement of recovery and the avoidance of injury that dictates the success of a season. When it comes to optimising performance, prevention is better than cure.

*Niggle – a problem that’s sufficient to negatively impact training and racing but not enough to stop it. Ironically, this leads to the perpetuation of the niggle which can, and usually does, evolve into an injury without appropriate intervention.

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